Judge’s decision leaves disabled with a disturbing message

AUCKLAND — In mid-September, Auckland boat-builder Evans Mott was convicted and discharged at the High Court in Auckland after pleading guilty to assisting the suicide
of his wife Rosie.

Justice Patricia Courtney reportedly said his culpability was low, and Mrs Mott would have acted with or without his help.

The High Court in Auckland.

The High Court in Auckland.

Mrs Mott was suffering from a form of multiple sclerosis for which there is no cure, leaving her with uncontrollable shaking in her limbs. Mr Mott helped his wife research suicide methods and helped her assemble the necessary equipment. But he wasn’t present at the death. Mrs Mott made a video explaining her decision to die by her own hand, alone.

Her husband, who has advocated for a law change to legalise voluntary euthanasia for the terminally ill or those with an irreversible condition, told media she wasn’t prepared to lose control. “That wasn’t a life she wanted,” Mr Mott reportedly said.

But Mrs Mott’s decision and action haven’t impressed the disability community.

Disability Clothesline co-manager Wendi Wicks said Mrs Mott’s actions have left disabled people with a bizarre and disturbing message.

“A key message from Rosie Mott’s suicide, and the video she filmed, is that if you live with or acquire a disability, it is okay, even laudable, to kill yourself. But that directly contradicts what disabled people understand — that their lives are of equal value.

“It reflects a culture where euthanasia ideas rule and effectively categorises disabled lives as optional.

“That’s unacceptable,” Ms Wicks said.

Disability Clothesline co-manager Robyn Hunt said disabled people are not burdens, and, with support, can live meaningful and rewarding lives, even with significant impairments.

“Negative social values towards disabled people contribute to decisions like Rosie’s. Disabled people don’t need to die that way,” Ms Hunt said.

Disability Clothesline Project aims to break the silence about all forms of violence and abuse experienced by disabled people, enabling victims to give creative expression to their experiences, as they use clothing as a canvas.

Some of their tee shirts are for the disabled people who have been coerced into suicide, because they believed that their lives were not worthwhile, Ms Hunt said.

“And we are disturbed that Rosie Mott accepted that message,” she said.

Shortly after the Mott sentencing, Labour MP Maryan Street released the results of a Horizon poll that she claimed showed a majority of New Zealanders back her bill for “end of life choice”.

The poll of 2969 adults, taken between July 5-20, shows 62.9 per cent support or strongly support allowing mentally competent adults to receive assistance to end their life if they have a terminal illness or an irreversible and unbearable condition. The poll had 12.3 per cent opposed, while 15.8 per cent were neutral and 9 per cent unsure. The margin of error was plus or minus 1.8 per cent.

Ms Street said the polls results show most New Zealanders understand the need for “greater compassion in the law”.

Responding to the poll, John Kleinsman, director of the Nathaniel Centre, agreed that there was a need for the law to be compassionate.

“That flexibility is there now when it comes to sentencing, and judges apply it as they see fit according to the circumstances. However, what Maryan Street is talking about is removing the law against killing in certain circumstances in order to be compassionate,” Mr Kleinsman said.

“It has been a long-standing tenet of our justice system that where there is a death that involves another person, there is a thorough investigation. If euthanasia were to be legalised, the starting point would be to assume that the death of every person carried out under this act would be legitimate — it would be very hard to ever prove otherwise with the main witness dead. The current law is in favour of ‘life’ but it would change to be in favour of ‘death’.

“A law change would open up opportunities for abuse. [Ms] Street has said it wouldn’t be easy to access euthanasia or assisted-suicide. That is a joke. The safeguards are, in fact, tissue thin. Anyone who reads the [Street] bill can see that.”

Mr Kleinsman said he suspects that “the picture most people have in their mind when asked about euthanasia is of a person with a severe condition in the last days of their life”.

“But anyone over 18 with an irrecoverable physical or mental condition that, in their view, renders their life unbearable could be approved. That leaves it wide open and highly subjective.”

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Michael Otto

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